As a horse owner it can be hard to know whether or not you should rug your horse in winter. Andie Vilela, Education and Campaigns Manager at Redwings Horse Sanctuary, gives some advice to help you decide if a rug is necessary.
To rug or not to rug?
Age, health, breed and living environment should be taken into account when deciding whether or not to rug your horse.
If you ride your horse and clip them in winter they will certainly need a rug to compensate.
A horse that is able to cope well in cold temperatures may become uncomfortably hot if rugged unnecessarily and horses in general find it difficult to cool down once they become overheated because their bodies are so efficient at keeping the heat in.
Over-rugging is becoming a problem for leisure horses in the UK. As rug technology has improved drastically in the last few years and as winters have been milder, many horses are not burning their summer fat stores and therefore go into the new grazing season without having lost the weight they would lose naturally. This is also contributing to high levels of obesity in the UK’s pony population.
Knowing when to rug
The challenge for owners is to know when to rug in accordance with their horse’s individual needs, exercise levels and weather. This means regular monitoring and avoiding the temptation to slip rugs on unnecessarily or getting into the habit of leaving a rug on without considering how seasons may have changed or how much more effective your new rug may be.
Ideally, rugs should be removed once a day to check underneath. If a horse has sweated in the rug (which can easily happen if they have a quick charge about or if the sun comes out), the humidity can lead to skin problems. Natural hair loss will also gather under a rug, and can become itchy and unpleasant. Removing the rug gives the body and inside of the rug a chance to breathe and allows the owner to check that all is well underneath. It is also harder to tell if a horse has lost or gained weight underneath a rug and removing it is the only way of checking that everything is as it should be.
Rugging is just one factor to consider when caring for your horse in winter. Redwings have a useful article with more advice on winter horse care including shelter, weight management and pasture management which you can read here – https://www.redwings.org.uk/advice/winter-horse-care.
More about Redwings: Redwings Horse Sanctuary was established in 1984 and has grown to be the largest horse sanctuary in the UK. Redwings are dedicated to saving horses, ponies, donkeys and mules whose future would otherwise be bleak. The charity now cares for over 1,500 rescued horses and donkeys at ten centres around the UK every day and has a further 500 living out in Guardian homes.
This article was written by Andie Vilela, Redwings Education and Campaigns Manager. For more information about Redwings’ education work, email firstname.lastname@example.org.